The conversation about the Neptune High School wrestling program has gradually changed over the last several seasons.
“Everyone would talk about how things used to be,” said Neptune coach Tim Jobes. “Now, they can talk about how things are. That’s a tremendous change in philosophy in how you coach.”
Neptune, which had success in the 1970’s and ’80’s under former coach Bob Tiedemann and had state champions in Lou Chapman in 1975 and the late Keith Alston in 1979 and had a legendary personality in the late Scott “Bam Bam” Bigelow who finished third in the state at heavyweight in 1979, went through some rough times iin the 1990’s and the early part of the new millineum.
However, gradually during Jobes’ 11 seasons as head coach, the Scarlet Fliers have made a comeback.
The last two seasons, Neptune almost qualified for the NJSIAA Team Tournament.
Last year, the Scarlet Fliers had their first state tournament qualifier since 1999 in region runner-up Dae’Sean Brown.
This year, they have three state qualfiers and two regions champions. Brown (170) and fellow senior John Seidle (220) are Neptune’s first region champions since 1995. Sophomore Nasiyr Brown (113) was a region runner-up.
Those three will attempt to become Neptune’s first state placewinner since Rohan Meredith finished seventh/eight at 171 in 1999 Friday-Sunday at Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City.
It is the first time since 1978, when Alston, Bigelow and Vic Keenan won region championships, that Neptune has had multiple region champions.
“This year was definitely a different mindset with all of us returning seniors,” said Seidle, who had an eye-opening run to his region championship. “We had a lot of intensity. We saw our senior year as our chance and we definitely took it that way and pushed the intensity every day in practice.”
But, long before the elation of this season, Jobes had to endure what he called a “depressing first three years”
“My first three years as head coach, we didn’t have a kid make it out of first round of districts,” Jobes said. However, with the gradual improvement of the middle school program, the light at the end of the tunnel could be seen.
“It actually became more exciting. You looked forward to the end of the season, instead of being depressed because you would see where your kids aren’t,” Jobes said.
In 2010, the current senior class entered the program. Several of them, including eventual three-time district champion Karl Waldron and two-time region qualifiers Sekou Harris and Isiah Haymon broke into the lineup and were successful.
Brown and Seidle broke into the lineup the following year and became district champions in 2012.
It has all resulted in the wrestling program carving out its little niche in a school long-known in the winter for its powerhouse and marquee basketball programs, “Wrestling is a hard sell in Neptune because there’s no one to blame if you get beat. It’s just you against that kid. Jobe said. “It’s a hard sell because everyone wants to play basketball, but there’s only five spots on a basketball team and maybe the sixth or seventh guy gets to see time.
“The hard part about wrestling is a lot of kids just want to be wrestling time season wrestlers and that’s it. It’s impossible to do that today, if you want to achieve at a higher level.”
Many of Neptune’s wrestlers have spent extensive time in recent years at Triumph Wrestling, a club in Ocean, run by former Wall two-time state champion Nick Roy. Neptune’s wrestlers compete in many tournaments during the summer. They have put in their time honing their skills.
“Some of them work out in the morning before school,” Jobes said. “They understand that you have to work harder than other schools because, in the past, they haven’t expected great things out of a Neptune kid. We’ve sort of wrestled with a chip on our shoulder because we’ve been fighting for the respect that we feel we have earned.”
Now, Neptune’s underclassmen, led by Nasiyr Brown, who came from the No. 7 seed, to get to the Region VI final, have a tradition to build on.
“It sets the bar,” Seidle said. “These guys who are sophomores have a class just like us. There’s a place for them. That’s where they can be. If they keep the intensity, they can do it.”